The Cleo stories by Libby Gleeson
Ill. by Freya Blackwood. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743315279
(Age: 5+) Highly recommended. Family life, Short stories, Birthdays. It's not often I come across a story that is so well written and illustrated that I turn back and read it again. This is such a one. Gleeson's hero, Cleo is an imaginative young girl with a winning way. She will enchant the readers as they hear of her wanting a necklace to be like the other girls, or wanting to give her mother a birthday present in the second of the two stories. Each time Cleo's needs are given voice we feel for her as she attempts to solve the problem for herself. And each time this is done with panache.
Going to a friend's birthday party she hears the other girls talk about their necklaces. Cleo does not have one and so asks her parents for one. The answer, very familiar to many children, is to wait for your birthday. But on seeing Uncle Tom's tattoo, she has an idea and so solves her quest herself.
In the second it is Mum's birthday soon and Cleo has no present for her. Mum reassures her that all she needs is Cleo, and after her failed attempt at joining together a dish that she broke, she resorts to exactly what Mum said she wanted with very funny results.
Both stories are filled with warmth and love, family and humour. They are imbued with the everyday, the ordinary, the small things that people do without them being momentous or life changing. They are believable and will resonate with the readers.
The illustrations are just wonderful, soft, warm and comfortable. The details of the neighbourhood, the insides of the houses, the gardens and streets make them so readily familiar, that the readers will recognise their own lives on the pages. Cleo's personality, the stories about her life and the illustrations combine to make this book one that will never be left on the shelves.